By Paleo Prints
Chapter 1: Come As You Are
"Honestly dear, I don't see how you could wear flannel on a summer day like this."
Cheerilee pushed her front hooves into the carriage seat. "Mom, it's a statement. It's part of the look." The college-bound magenta mare ran an anxious hoof through her tangled hair. Looking out the carriage window only brought an endless repetition of trees and grass as Ponyville retreated and Canterlot advanced. Given a choice between another squirrel sighting and meaningful conversation with her mother, she became ambivalent.
Orchid Petal sighed. She pulled a comb out of her bulging purse and began making small adjustments to her flowing pink mane. "I never thought I'd miss statements like 'mares just want to have fun.' Can we go back to those?" She tried a warm smile on her inscrutable offspring. "They were kind of fun."
"Ponies change, Mom." Cheerilee lifted her other hoof to her own mane. She noticed soon that she was subconsciously mimicking her mother's grooming. With concealed panic she immediately tousled the pink and white hair into its previous mess. "I'm just discovering who I am."
"Of course, dear." Orchid leaned back, letting the supple cushions of the private coach absorb her. "I tried to convince your father to come. I'm sorry he couldn't make it. You know how he is."
Cheerilee's smile, previously ever-present in their lives, was lately an unexpected treat for her mother to see. Its sudden reappearance seemed to outshine the summer sun. "Mom, Dad closed the seed shop early and called me over. He gave me 'the talk' again. I see that he cares. I just wish you both would realize that I'll be fine."
Orchid Seed turned toward the carriage window to conceal a dark look. It didn't entirely work. "I worry about you socializing with that waste of horn."
Cheerilee rubbed her temples. "Mom, Lyra's one of my oldest and closest friends."
Her temperamental mother openly flashed Cheerilee a look of disapproval. "Your father and I worked hard to pay for this tuition. We've carefully cultivated you, whereas the Heartstrings have dragged their daughter along on their long fall from grace." She softened her expression as she saw mounting anger on her daughter's face. Gingerly she rested her hoof on Cheerilee's side
"Please believe me, my little blossom. She's a charity case. Your father and I only worry how she'd rub off on you if you get too close to her."
Cheerilee turned away, hoping her natural fuchsia coat could hide the blush her mother caused. You have no idea. "I'll make good decisions, Mom. Stop worrying so much."
Orchid Seed flinched at her daughter's reply. "Dear, I don't mean to cast aspirations. Trust me, your father and I have every confidence in you."
"Are you sure you're close enough to the campus doctor's office, dear? What if you have one of your… moments?"
Ditzy Doo stepped loudly as she paced around her new dorm room, converting irritation into force. She briefly considered working out a possible conversion rate before sighing in resignation. "Ma, they only last for a few seconds. My aphasia won't burn down the dorm."
Topsy Twister clicked her tongue with worry. Her urban Bronxco accent dripped with fear. "Sweetie, don't worry. In case something happens, your father and I got you a little something to help." Her orange curls bounced with happiness as she pulled out a gift-wrapped present. "We bought you the perfect solution for a case of word salad."
Ditzy turned with a forced grin. Topsy's face was a mess of worry. Her mother's stable voice had organized everything from beauty pageants to Best Young Flyer competitions, but it now cracked with fear. "Mom, what did you get me that could be so… flat?"
Topsy pushed the gift into Ditzy's hooves with the desperation of a rescuer throwing a life preserver. "You'll like it, Bubbles. It was your father's idea."
Ditzy stuck her tongue out of her mouth in concentration as she carefully unwrapped the present. She knew she would be held personally responsible for any wasted wrappings. He eyes spun in frustration as she focused on precise movements. Soon, the crinkling sound stopped.
"Aw, Mom! Really? What the spanner turntable lift box freak crutch?" The furious student held up a small chalkboard. It had been modified into a necklace with the addition of a rope loop on the top.
Topsy gasped. "You're having another attack! Quick, put it on! Write out the words!"
Ditzy threw it on the floor. "That's all I need, Mom! How's everyone going to react to a mare walking around like a sandwich store advertisement?" She walked into her bathroom, slamming the door behind her.
Topsy paced around the room, eyes watering. "Lovey Bubbly, your Dad just thought it would help with your problems. We have to consider other solutions now that your great-aunt Daring's cut him off from her book royalty money."
"Well, I was getting sick of doctors anyway. " Ditzy sat on her haunches, taking slow and measured breaths before speaking to her mother again. "Where is Dad, anyway? Did he have an event today?" She stared at the cracks in the ceiling, watching them dance with her unconscious eye movements while waiting for the dreaded answer.
Topsy inspected her daughter's suitcase, crying and snooping in typical Bronxco multitasking fashion. "No, honey. His next announcer job is tomorrow. He just didn't want to be a nudnik."
Ditzy stood on her back hooves to lean onto the mirror. She grabbed a towel in preparation. "Of course. It's just an added plus that Smooth Storm doesn't have to be seen with his disabled daughter in public." Ditzy stared hard in the mirror, looking at her eyes as she breathed heavily. After several dry moments, she threw the towel across the room. "I'm used to it, I guess."
Topsy held up a childhood toy from Ditzy's suitcase. "Honey, it's not like that. You know it's hard for someone in showbiz to deal with their career and have a personal life with so many… issues. I mean, he's done all he can for a daughter with three medical conditions."
Ditzy was about to leave the bathroom when her mother's sentence made her hesitate. She held her quivering hoof in place over the knob. "Three conditions, Mom? I have two."
Her mother gritted her teeth awkwardly. She turned around the wooden toy in her hooves. "Well, you know," she offered pleasantly. Her agreeable tone contrasted with the look of malevolent hate on her face. She regarded the blue painted wooden box with loathing. "There's the eye thing, and the aphasia, and… "
Her heart skipped as she came to the front of the homemade toy. The top of the box was labeled "Pony Box" in a childish scrawl. A poorly-drawn window showed a young grey pegasus and a brown stallion inside. "You have the…the brain thing… "
Topsy lifted the hated object over her head. She glanced around for a garbage can to dispose of the representation of her daughter's most troubling issue. A cruel smile appeared as she saw the bin in the hallway. She was halfway toward the door when the aged block was forcefully grabbed from her grasp.
Turning around, Topsy stared into the eyes of a wrathful Ditzy. The younger mare clutched the blue toy to her chest as her finally wet eyes flashed accusingly. "I do not have a brain thing, Mom!"
Topsy fought back a welling of tears as her daughter's shrieks echoed down the dorm hall. "Of course not, my Bubbly Bubbe. But, you know your therapist recommended you get rid of all that stuff that, you know, like that… "
Ditzy advanced on her mother, nostrils flaring. "Don't you ever touch my old TARDIS, mom! Ever!"
Tears ran down Topsy's cheeks. "Of course, dear. I forgot. Your 'TARDIS.'" Her eyes twitched slightly. "Why don't I just go get us a drink, eh?" She almost managed to keep her composure before leaving Ditzy's sight.
Ditzy threw herself backwards onto her couch. She held the beloved childhood artwork over her head for a second, staring straight at the drawing of the chestnut-coated stallion. "You'll see, Mom." Ditzy smiled at the painted Doctor as she felt tears run down her cheeks. "Once I get my degree I'll be able to do things with all the stuff he taught me. Someday you'll know I'm not crazy."
Busy students wandered the open grounds of Canterlot University, searching hurriedly for specific room numbers and offices. A lone pegasus or two could be glimpsed every few minutes skimming through the trees of the gigantic garden. Centuries ago a wealthy alumni had provided the school with perpetual trust funds in exchange for the conservation of the original wilderness. As Cheerilee and her mother walked over fields of flowers the young mare gaped.
The university surrounded the gardens the way buildings on a Monopony board surround the cards and logo. The center of the campus was a hollow neighborhood of see-through buildings. Houses, furniture, and even mock-ups of teachers and students were constructed out of vine trellises. To Cheerilee's right was a lectern commanded by a stern-looking pony-shaped planter. Vines covered in blue flowers snaked in and out of his body, but either regular trimming or magic ensured that his shape was visible as he forever attempted to wake a napping student covered in daffodils.
"This is so cool. You don't normally see Yellow Dusk Creeper growing inside of cities." Cheerilee ran from scene to scene, wordlessly cooing at each new sight. To Orchid's eyes she looked like a museum visitor in a rush to see every portrait.
Orchid smiled. "Aren't you glad you came?"
Cheerilee grunted as she stuck her head inside a huge flower bush made to look like a taxi cart. She pulled herself free from it with a crown of sticky red flowers caught in her mane. A quick head shake brought her long tangles within nibbling range, and a scarlet bloom was instantly swallowed. Cheerilee leaned against a trellis with her eyes closed, savoring the taste.
Her mother petted her mane gingerly, avoiding the dripping petals. "That's how I like to see you, Blossom. You didn't get your cutie mark for apathy, you know. When did not being cheerful become the cool thing?"
"Stylistic argument later. Aftertaste now." Cheerilee plucked more of the jelly-like flowers into her mouth.
Orchid shook her head, a stoic mask allowing the occasional smile to slip through. "Dear, you'll never catch a husband like that. You'd be stunning if you cleaned yourself up. You had so many colts chasing you during the glam years. Have you ever wondered where they disappeared to?"
Cheerilee nearly choked on sugary petals. "I dunno. I… just stopped liking the selection, I guess." She started walking off. "And for the last time, I look fine!"
Orchid shook her head as she stayed a few hoof-lengths behind "Dear, you never know just how you look through other ponies' eyes. Say, would you mind meeting a nice stallion who lives here? I'm old friends of his family… "
Her daughter's full gallop had already carried from the gardens to the buildings proper. Orchid put on a brave face and forced a cheerful tone as she watched Cheerilee's flank disappear into a revolving door.
"Maybe she's already got a stallion somewhere."
Ditzy was lying down in a darkened room when the mint unicorn kicked in the door. "Party time has arrived!" Ditzy flung a confused look at the strange mare. The intruder stumbled towards the other couch, miraculously managing to not spill the mug of cider she waved like a flag. The party pony collapsed onto the sofa, closing her eyes and making soft sounds of contentment. "I will enjoy sleeping here."
"Yeah, the couches on this floor are really nice."
Ditzy's words made the green mare sit up abruptly. She narrowed her eyes at the pegasus across the room. "What're you doing here?"
"Most likely the same thing you are, only without the sleeping thing. I'm Ditzy Doo. Welcome to the room!"
The newcomer scratched her mane as she steadied herself upright. Ditzy grimaced at the unnatural position the mint pony settled into. "Well, Lyra Heartstrings of Canterlot is pleased to offer you a housewarming gift in the traditional Canterlot way." She waved the mug cheerfully at Ditzy, belched, and started giggling.
Ditzy joined in. "You're funny. This should be a fun semester with you as a roommate."
Lyra cast her hoof in all directions to reach the nearby lantern. As the fireflies woke up she noticed a weird object sitting on the shelf. "So, what's this?" She slowly levitated the blue wooden block into the air. As Lyra slowly rotated it Ditzy nibbled her hoof to avoid laughing.
"It's a TARDIS. It means 'Time and Relative Dimension in Space.' It travels through space/time."
Lyra blinked. "Cool. I've never read that series. I'm a total freak for the Humanworld novels, though. Hey, I'll loan you the first book if I can get your time travel one."
Ditzy blushed. "Um. I don't have the first book." She sighed, and then suddenly sat up with a terrified look of realization. "Oh no. The bookstore's been open for almost an hour now! Catch you later, roomie!" A gray blur flew out of the room.
Lyra tracked her by the sound of terrified students travelling down the hall. She lowered the TARDIS onto the table and raised a hoof in feeble protest. "I'm not really your… ah, buck it. At least she's cute." She turned over, squeezed the pillows into a distorted clump, and promptly began snoring.
A bouncing pegasus filly sent noisy protests echoing through the library lobby. "Mommy, look at the neat statue! It's got a spear and stuff!"
The librarian at the front counter threw disapproving looks at the foal's mother. The reproached parent rolled her eyes. "That's nice dear. Please try to be quiet while I check out these books."
The filly's volume only increased, as did angry mutters from the rest of the library line. "But Mom, he's got three spears, or maybe one spear, or maybe it's a fork! He's going to eat something huge!"
The librarian crossed her fore-hooves. "Miss, if you can't control your daughter I won't be able to check out your selections." She gestured to the large pile of research books she had barely gotten halfway through.
The torrent of noises continued as the besieged mother placed her forehead on the library desk. "I'm sorry, I really need these for my dissertation, and I know I can't… " Words failed her as the quivering started. She could already feel wetness on the edge of her closed eyes. Suddenly she snapped her eyelids open; she realized that she heard a strange sound.
It was silence.
The mother, the librarian, and the relieved check-out line turned to regard the now quiet child. The young pony was sitting spellbound as a scruffy young mare sat nearby. The fuchsia filly in flannel was happily lecturing to the hyperactive child, and held every iota of her attention.
"…so Foamrider is actually holding a trident. It's the traditional weapon of the sea-ponies in the myths. This one is called 'Seastrike,' and he's supposed to have used it to seal the gates of Tartaurus against the Red Necromancer's escape. Have you ever heard that one?"
The little white pegasus shook her head.
Cheerilee smiled. "Well, it's a story of darkness rainbows, dragons, and transformed princes. It all started when… "
A few minutes later she felt a hoof gently placed on her shoulder. She turned to see an overjoyed older mare wearing a saddlebag filled with books. She had tears in her eyes.
"Pardon me, miss. I've never seen Surprise sit still and listen for so long."
Cheerilee smiled and shrugged. "Well, it does sound like our little filly might be willing to be quiet for a little while longer if you check her out a book on mythology. Isn't that right?"
Surprise vibrated her head up and down into a blur. Her mother took her by the hoof. She walked a few paces before turning back to Cheerilee.
"I can't help but wonder, Miss. What are you studying to be?"
Cheerilee's answer was cut off by a pony behind her speaking in a proper Canterlot accent. "I'm happy to assure to you that this young mare is one of the rising stars of our education program." Cheerilee turned to see a smiling red unicorn gently stomping in soft approval. Her mother stood next to him, beaming with pride.
Cheerilee nervously grinned and nodded as a round of applause followed from the grateful library line. Surprise's mother gave her a kiss on the forehead.
"You have a gift," she declared. "Use it." She turned and took her bouncing child into the folklore section.
Cheerilee blushed at the unexpected attention while the scarlet gentlepony helped her to stand. He raised an approving eyebrow. "I am almost surprised to find out that your mother hasn't been exaggerating. You really do have a talent, my dear."
Orchid rushed to her daughter's side. "This is Professor High Class, Blossom. He's an old friend of the family who's going to be very impressed." As her mother threw her hoof over the young teacher's shoulder, Cheerilee felt uncomfortably like a young foal being shown off at a spelling bee. She ducked out of her mother's reach and approached her academic superior.
"It's a pleasure to meet you, sir! I'm glad we could meet before classes begin."
High Class shook his head. "Orchid, I have no idea how your taciturn husband could produce such a proper young lady." He paused in contemplation. "She certainly dresses like him, though. Shall we take a lunch and perhaps discuss how your family is doing, dear Miss Petal?"
Cheerilee's eyes rolled as her mother giggled like a schoolfilly. "It's Mrs. Seed-Petal now, you old charmer. You know that very well." High Class had the propriety to at least pretend to be embarrassed.
Cheerilee's eyes went wide. "Oh, buck me. I need to get to the student bookstore."
Her mother coughed at the profanity as the professor waved away her concerns. "No need, my dear. Allow me to treat you and your delightful mother to lunch whilst I send a grad student to get your textbooks. I'd hate to imagine a demure young lady like you being stuck in that dreadful line."
Ditzy moved from one set of hooves to the other as she considered the seemingly endless parade of ponies ahead of her on the Canterlot University green. Surrounded by her fellow students for the first time, she tried to keep the worry off of her face. Years of relying on obscure machines and improvised repairs had made Ditzy good at mental calculations, and she didn't like how the pace of the line compared with the bookstore's stock and closing time.
"So, who're you standing in line for?"
The sudden question snapped Ditzy out of her reverie. Ditzy turned her attention from the glacially-paced line to the curious voice behind her. "Oh! I'm taking Professor Free Radical's Principles of Energy 101. And you?"
A bespectacled unicorn gave Ditzy an incredulous once over. "Really? I thought you were someone's staff holding their place. You're not actually a student here, right?"
Ditzy nodded. "Yuppers! I got a muffin of a scholarship from my school aptitude test scores, so here I am! I'm Ditzy Doo, at your service!" She offered an enthusiastic salute as her eyes spun. "I'm a magi-energetic engineering major."
The unicorn's friends stared at Ditzy, whispering just out of her hearing. Ditzy's nerves started to fray as they leaned over to whisper in their comrade's ear, who giggled and pointed at Ditzy's face.
"Ew. That thing with your eyes is gross. Why do you do that?"
"Um… " She dug her hoof into the ground to keep herself from running. "I have… stuff. In my head." This only drew another snicker from the small group. Ditzy threw on a cheerful grin. "What're you majoring in?"
"Ordering around ponies like you." The unicorn turned away with an incredulous snort.
Ditzy spent the next hour with a tight sliver of a smile on her face, not reacting to the occasional laugh from the group behind her. Her smile picked as the inside of the university bookstore became visible. Gigantic piles of tomes were bagged and bits flew freely. It reminded Ditzy of an auction house mixed with a library.
Within minutes of entering she brought a large stack of required volumes to the front counter. She smiled widely as a bored clerk clicked an abacus with disinterest.
"Okay, that'll be two hundred and seventy-five bits. Thank you for shopping." He stared at Ditzy impatiently.
Her face was pale as she checked her saddlebags. "Really? My scholarship only gave me fifty bits monthly to cover books and groceries." She shook out the bags, only finding a screwdriver, a banana, and a battered piece of broken machine totally unknown to Equestrian science. "Are you sure it's that much, sir?"
He gestured to the line behind her. "Miss, either you buy them or you don't. Which is it?"
Ditzy's eyes dropped. "Coronet marzipan purple in-between." She shrugged. "Where's the used textbook shelf?" The clerk gave her a withering glare. "Well, I'm going to have to take notes in class, then." She looked at the four-hoof tall stack of books. "Lots of notes." She wrapped her forelimbs around the stack. "Sir, I'll put these back on the shelves for you. Don't you bother getting up."
She walked out of the line past several glares, disappearing into the far stacks of the store. She hummed tunelessly as she returned the books to their places. The continual sound of ringing registers was broken by a curious questioner.
"Are you actually putting the books back?"
Ditzy turned with a volume in her mouth to regard the speaker. A brownish red unicorn mare was staring at her in surprise with blue-gray eyes. Ditzy started to reply through the book, which prompted an amused shake of the stranger's white mane. Rolling her eyes, Ditzy careful placed her book back on the shelf.
"Yes miss, I'm putting them all back where they were. I have a little time to kill, I guess. Might as well help out!"
The unicorn's eyes went wider. "Having been at this school for a while, whenever someone pulls what you did it's only to sneak the books outside the bookstore."
Ditzy gasped in shock. "I couldn't do that!"
The strange mare giggled. "Someone like you'd never think of that, I guess."
Ditzy shrugged. "Actually there are five major flaws in the security system and four unwatched exits. It'd be kinda easy. But even if things may not be going my way today, that's no reason to get the clerk in trouble."
The unicorn blinked. "Wha… how did you… "She cast a glance towards the showroom, rolling the cheerful pegasus' statement around in her head.
Ditzy shrugged. "I used to do a lot of indoor running. Ditzy Doo, at your service!" She proffered a hoof to the confused mare, who shook it automatically.
"Um. I'm Clockwork. I think I can help you with the whole book thing." She winked at Ditzy's curious look, then pointed to a wrench emblazoned across her flank. "Us gearheads have to stick together."
Ditzy nodded vigorously. "It's so great to meet another engineering student! What courses are you taking? Who's your favorite professor? What kind of muffins do you like?"
Clockwork carefully placed both hooves on Ditzy's shoulders. "I'd love to chat here, but if you want the books we have to go before they wheel the dumpsters out."
Ditzy's eyes spun. "Dumpsters?"
Clockwork slyly grinned as she threw a foreleg around Ditzy and pulled her toward the exit. "My friend, there are two kinds of unicorns in Canterlot: the nobles, and the ones who keep the nobles' world running. If you're from the second one, you learn how to get stuff on the cheap."
They paced out of the bookstore doors apparently empty-hooved, leaving a curious clerk to waste an hour rechecking inventory on the engineering shelves.
"Em… your Majesty… is that… a banana?"
Cheerilee, Ditzy, Princess Celestia, and the Jacuzzi all disappeared as a slam woke Lyra up. She rolled onto the floor, yelping in surprises. As she sat up she rubbed her head and cast an aggravated glance around the dorm room.
Ditzy was organizing a stack of books twice as tall as a pony. The lopsided pile alternated between volumes in perfect condition and things that looked like a hydra chewed on them. Lyra cautiously approached the tower of tottering tomes, sniffing skeptically.
"Ditzy, where did you get an engineering textbook that smells like bananas?"
The proud pegasus grinned. "Did you know that most of the students here just chuck their old books away? Apparently you can't buy alfalfa with what the book store pays back, so everypony just leaves stuff they don't need by the dorm dumpsters."
Lyra carefully levitated a battered workbook out of the pile. "This one's got answers in it." She dropped it to examine another. "This one's got different answers." She eyed a third identical book. The drawings on the title page made her blush. "This one's more like an anatomy book."
Ditzy looked over her shoulder and smiled. "Well, everypony needs somepony to daydream about."
Lyra closed the book with a mischievous grin. "So, who do you daydream about, Miss Doo?"
Ditzy's head was by now stuck in the fridge, but Lyra caught the shrug as it flowed down to her rump. "He's from out of town. Say, no stallion visited while you were napping, did they?"
"No one's come through that door except for you."
Ditzy giggled. "My colt wouldn't need a door." She pulled out a tin of carrot-flavored haymen and set the noodles to cook.
"I am so proud of you, my dear." Orchid walked through the halls heedless of those avoid her. Several times she almost collided with students, once nearly sending a cart of moving supplies over.
Cheerilee steadied he mother with a hoof. "Mom, you have to look where you're going."
Her only response was a laugh. "I can only see where you're going, dear! I always said you could be a doctor or lawyer. I was worried when you settled on teacher, but here in Canterlot you could use your talents to get the bits you deserve."
Cheerilee flipped her mane dismissively as she trotted down the hallway. "It's not about the money, Mom."
Orchid waited in the hallway as she watched her daughter disappear down a door. She took a deep breath with a worried look on her face. "Cheerilee, you say that because you've always had it."
Her daughter didn't hear her as she saw Ditzy at the table, studying while stuffing herself with haymen. "Ditzy Doo! You're my roomie?"
The fuchsia mare's grin was quickly returned. "Hey, Cheerilee! It's good to see another Ponyville face." Tension inside Ditzy released, knowing that she wouldn't be bunking with a judgmental Canterlot pony. She hadn't hung out much with the well-off filly from her hometown during school, but Cheerilee always counted as a friendly face.
Cheerilee sat down at the table. "Well, we certainly lucked out." Here eye's flickered toward Ditzy's shelf. "Wow! It's the Traveling Box!"
Ditzy turned in surprise. "You… you know what that is?"
"That's the box that an ancient wizard rides down from the stars, right?" She handled the box gingerly. "It's an old story, dating back before the first Hearth's Warming Eve.
"Yeah, it's from a silly story for kids." Ditzy cast her eyes down at the table.
Cheerilee placed a hoof on Ditzy's shoulder. "When I became a mare I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up," she quoted.
Cheerilee rubbed Ditzy's mane, making the depressed pegasus look up in cautious hope. "You need to read Strive Stables," the would-be-teacher lectured. "Ditzy, I love fantasy and mythology!" She cast another glance at the toy. "You've painted it kind of like a phone booth." Turning back to Ditzy, she suddenly asked, "Hey, did my things arrive?"
Ditzy nearly snorted the last of her noodles. She looked away, concealing a smile as she explained, "Yeah, they're all in your room's closet."
Cheerilee rushed out of the common room into her small bedroom. She gave it an approving nod as she walked through. "Okay, I have to thank Dad for this one. It really is a nice setup." She hurried to the knobs and threw open the doors.
Cheerilee squeaked as mint lips wrapped around her nose. "Surprise," whispered an enticing voice. Lyra's inviting eyes made Cheerilee's coat stand on end. She leaned out and whispered into the stunned mare's ear, "Should I come out of the closet now?"
"Mother," was the only reply the blushing mare could manage. Lyra nodded in triumph, causing Cheerilee to gesture wildly toward the front of the apartment. "No. My. Mother." Lyra's eyes rolled back briefly before she leaned out to peck Cheerilee on the cheek. "Get rid of her," she softly commanded.
Cheerilee twitched, threw a spastic hoof in salute, and moved towards the living room. Lyra stood on her back hooves, leaning on the door frame. "Huh. It's not so hard after all."
Rushing into the common room, Cheerilee found her mother already chatting amiably with her roommate. "Really, an engineering scholarship? I'm sorry to be surprised, but no one in town ever spoke of how talented you were."
Ditzy called back from the kitchenette sink. "Yeah, I traveled a lot over the summers. I learned stuff in lots of different places."
Orchid raised an eyebrow. "Summer engineering internships, then? Miss Doo, I had no idea you were such a motivated mare." She cast a diplomatic smile to Cheerilee. "Little Blossom, these are the kind of friends you should be making."
Cheerilee breathed out aggravation from the unspoken jab at Lyra. "Mom, I'm really tired. Can I unpack my things and crash?"
Orchid nodded as she moved toward the door. "Of course. You may want to make this place look respectable." She winked conspiratorially. "I know there's a certain stallion who's been wanting to meet you that lives on campus."
"Mom, stop trying to set me up! I'm not looking for a coltfriend right now."
Orchid's eyes narrow suspiciously. "Certainly. Well, I'm proud of you anyway. Have a good night, dear. I'm going to leave before I start crying." Cheerilee silently paced over and hugged her mother, sitting on her haunches. After a moment the tearing older mare left, closing the door behind her.
It was silent for a full ten seconds before Lyra's head stuck out of the doorway. "Is the old nag gone yet?"
Her response was a playful hoof aimed at her head that she nimbly dodged. "Lyra, how on Equestria are you here in Canterlot? Your parents didn't have the money to send you here."
The mint musician tackled her marefriend onto the couch. "Shall I leave my special somepony crying alone at night? I've been staying at a halfway house for struggling students. There's a couple I know who lets out their beds and sofas to talented poor ponies like myself while we're going to school."
Cheerilee looked into two gold eyes that were bloodshot and drooping. "Have you been getting sleep?"
Lyra chuckled as she rolled off of the couch. "Well, I have to do a lot of gigs to keep my music classes. I come home late, and the furniture is first-come first-served. They only have a couple of couches. I sleep on the love seat."
Cheerilee raised herself and leaned her neck over Lyra's, closing her eyes. "You could sleep here, maybe." She suddenly looked at Ditzy, biting her lip. "Um, that is… "
Ditzy turned away. "Um… I have a major concern. Having marefriends in here might be a problem."
Lyra responded first. "Really?" Cheerilee saw Lyra's shoulders tense almost imperceptivity. The cheerful-sounding unicorn was smiling widely at Ditzy's back like a manticore displaying teeth at an intruder. "Whatever could that be?"
Cheerilee placed a gentle hoof on Lyra's shoulder. "Calm down," she whispered. "She always seemed nice."
"They all do at first," her marefriend replied.
Ditzy shook her head as she brought out a box from the refrigerator. "Well, I knew fifty-six muffins would spread well between two mares. One for every meal and an emergency muffin gives us a two week supply. Sharing equally between the three of us might be a little harder." Ditzy stuck her tongue out of the corner of her mouth as look of deep concentration based over her. "I may need to make more, which will necessitate a cupboard ingredient reorganizing. And bananas. Bananas are good."
She placed the box on the counter and lifted a trio of muffins out. "Well, we might as well each if the formula is off. Oh, honey muffins! Who wants that honey?"
Lyra's mouth dropped open as she turned to Cheerilee. "Can we keep her? I'll take care of her, I promise."
Author's Note: For the newcomers, Cheerilee and Lyra come courtesy of my story "School Daze," while Ditzy here is from "The Three Whooves." If this is your first time with me, welcome aboard!